New phone service in Routt County

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— Like 911 and 411 before it, creators of 211 foresee the new number becoming a household name.

Callers who pick up the phone today can dial 211 and find a knowledgeable operator on the other line offering connections to health and human service organizations in Routt and Moffat counties.

The call center is available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday, with a goal of eventually offering around-the-clock service.

"The impetus in starting 211 was to unclog 911," said Millie Beall, executive director of Routt County United Way. "People are always calling 911 for information and, even though they don't say so, it does clog the system."

Bringing 211 to Routt and Moffat counties was the work of Yampa Valley Partners and United Way, Beall said. The number has been up and running for the past three years as a pilot program in Larimer, Weld and Mesa counties as well as the Denver metro area. Northwest Colorado is the first rural area to receive the service.

The 211 service has been available in Routt County since July, but wasn't announced publicly until the "kinks were worked out," Beall said.

Because United Way is a referral agency, Beall knows the need for a service such as 211.

"People who are calling with one need, usually have many other needs," she said. "I get calls from people who lost their jobs. They need help with rent and utilities, and they are also wondering if there is a food bank in town. ... 211 will have that information."

Callers can get information if their teen has a drinking problem or if they are looking for a support group or job training.

The number also is good to dial for people looking to volunteer in the community. By explaining their skills and interests to the operator, callers will be referred to the agency where they are needed.

Information is available in English and Spanish.

Currently, 211 is funded by United Way in areas across the country, but legislation is on the table to fund the number through phone bills in the same way 911 is funded.

"For years, we have been trying to find a first point of contact for people," Beall said. "It's hard for people to make it through the maze of services. When someone needs help, they need it right now. With 211, they only have to tell their story once."

-- To reach Autumn Phillips call 871-4210

or e-mail aphillips@steamboatpilot.com

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